Exploring the gap between climate change science and user needs in Senegal

The CEH-led AMMA 2050 project is part of the £20 million Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) programme – to develop better climate information for Africa – a joint initiative of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). The project recently held its second Annual General Meeting in Somone, Senegal, during which a consultation event with regional stakeholders also took place focusing on climate variables and building resilient agriculture. Tanya Warnaars of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is the project coordinator and updated us on the meetings:

"Scientists from the AMMA-2050 project and Senegalese stakeholders met to explore the gap between scientific research and the needs and challenges of local decision makers in the Fatick region of Senegal. We are working on ways of communicating our work and making it useable to vulnerable communities.

Vulnerable to impacts of climate change

West Africa is one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change. Current research is providing significant improvements in our understanding of how the climate is changing over West Africa. Despite increased scientific understanding, the usefulness of improved climate knowledge can only be measured by its application beyond the academic sphere. Dr Arame Tall, the Global Framework for Climate Service Regional Coordinator for Africa, captured this objective in the opening address when she stated, "I hope that AMMA-2050 will help bridge [the] gap between research and operational service delivery."

Despite increased scientific understanding, the usefulness of improved climate knowledge can only be measured by its application beyond the academic sphere.

To this end, AMMA-2050 is piloting the delivery of new climate information to the region of Fatick in Senegal. The meeting in Somone forms part of a longer process to understand the socio-economic contexts within Fatick and how climate information may assist decision-making in selected sectors and locations. Fourteen local stakeholders participated, including the Governor of Fatick, a local mayor, and representatives from key organisations in Senegal such as COMRECC (Regional Committee on Climate Change), DREEC (Regional Department for the Environment and Classified enterprises), ANCAR (Agence National de Conseil Agricol et Rural) and IED Afrique (Innovations Environnement Développement).

AMMA-2050 experts included local and international researchers from 15 institutions specialising in climate science, crop breeding, water resource modelling and understanding the decision making context. "This [meeting] is a big moment…to sit down with our partners and discuss the issues here in Senegal." emphasised Dr Chris Taylor, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Principal Investigator for AMMA-2050.

Our consultation event with stakeholders highlighted the existing challenges facing Fatick, particularly factors that drive development and risk from high impact weather events. Alongside farming practices, land ownership, land use change, population growth and competition over natural resources (particularly between cattle breeders and farmers) were highlighted as key factor to understand. Importantly, migration is often overlooked as an adaptation strategy. Migration can have a serious impact on both a country’s development (as the ability to improve one’s situation through resettlement is not often a viable adaptation method for the most at risk persons), and can inadvertently increase internal stress on food, water and institutional resources.

Presenting at the AMMA 2050 meeting in Senegal in February 2017
Adama Bamba (early career researcher from Ivory Coast) presented at the meeting

Discussions at the stakeholder meeting highlighted the importance of understanding local governance structures to identify entry points for engagement. Many cattle breeders, for instance, do not join professional associations, and community associations are more useful entry points for engagement. With regards to national and local policy, the Senegalese National Met Office (ANACIM) is responsible for informing national and local planning documents with updated climate information and may be a key mechanism for informing policy. Dr Mbaye Diop, member of COMRECC, highlighted the opportunity to include expert advice from AMMA-2050 in the update of the five-year Fatick Territorial Development Plan and issued a request for support to integrate climate information into this policy.

Discussions at the stakeholder meeting highlighted the importance of understanding local governance structures to identify entry points for engagement.

Central challenges to piloting climate services in this context concerns the balance of importance between seasonal weather information and climate change strategies, coupled with a lack of sufficient understanding among stakeholders of what climate change means. Several stakeholders questioned the necessity of considering climate change information. As stated by Dr Cheikh Wade from the IED Afrique non-governmental organisation, "Farmers often ask 'Why is climate change suddenly important? The climate has always been changing.'" Yet ANACIM noted increased interest in climate change amongst farmers, but emphasised the need to focus services on practical actions that can be taken in the short term.

Furthermore, it is important for any intervention to be inclusionary, focusing on women and more vulnerable groups. Climate change research ought to aim to reduce the risk for all members of society, and not just those with the socio-economic standing to adapt.

The meeting also offered an opportunity for stakeholders to clarify more specific climate indicators that they would find useful and comment on the format in which information can be provided. Stakeholders identified priorities as:

  • Rainfall (number of rainfall days, patterns of onset date and in-season drying)
  • Strong winds - these are common and can be very destructive
  • Radiation – stakeholders noted that it is not uncommon for crops to reach maturity but not yield much due to low radiation
  • Humidity
  • Extreme events such as floods, false onsets and lightning

The stakeholders also identified other indicators that climate scientists were not currently looking at but that would be of interest to them, such as off-season rainfall. One stakeholder gave an example of how such off-season rains, although rare, can be harmful, pointing out that some breeders lost 35 heads of cattle and almost 100 other small ruminants due to sudden drops in temperature resulting from a rainfall event outside the growing season.

From useful to used

The engagement event demonstrated the complexities of integrating stakeholders' needs and experiences with climate change studies. AMMA-2050 researchers noted the need to develop greater collective capacity around communicating climate information more effectively. In particular, what technical data and diagrams / plots to use in presentations and how to communicate uncertainty. To respond to the needs of both groups (researchers and stakeholders) such participatory events need a solid plan with clear goals and using alternative approaches such as serious games can aid in achieving the needs of both groups.

Such engagement lent support to the aim that AMMA-2050 can have substantial impact on the livelihood of West African farmers in the long term. The central investment that has been made in improving the skill and usefulness of climate information is key. However, the project will have to demonstrate this by pushing beyond "useful" to "used" information.

Attendees at the AMMA 2050 meeting in Senegal in February 2017
Full AMMA-2050 consortium and stakeholders

Building trust

To get climate information used requires investment from researchers, institutions and decision makers in iterative processes that converge the limits of the latest science with the contexts of decision makers, while building trust and communicating climate change information in simple, usable and useful ways. "Without this bridge [between research and end users], research is useless," noted the Governor of Fatick, Mr Mbengue. Dr David Adukpo, AMMA-2050 researcher at University of Cape Coast, emphasised the need for building trust. He said, "There can be a fear that scientists want to use farmers and decision makers as guinea pigs to further individual research and careers… Whatever results we find in AMMA-2050, let us never forget the people on the ground…let’s work hand in hand with them." The governor of the Fatick region gave a vote of thanks to close the day.

The comments and opinions of our stakeholders are very valuable at this stage in our project as we have two more years of work ahead of us. Such discussions are important to ensure the work we are doing remains relevant to the users of our results. Following on from our day-long stakeholder engagement we had detailed discussions on the progress of our work plans. Even though it is difficult to unite all our project partners together in the same place, and though at times our discussions across different disciplines can be difficult, these face-to-face meetings really build a sense of community and help to motivate us to working together as an AMMA-2050 team."

Tanya Warnaars

Additional information

The AMMA-2050 project is coordinated by CEH and involves a wide range of partner organisations including University of Sussex, UK; University of Leeds, UK; UK Met Office; International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering, Burkina Faso; University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar (UCAD), Senegal; University of Cape Coast, Ghana; National Agency for Civil Aviation and Meteorology (ANACIM), Senegal; Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research (ISRA); Félix Houphouët-Boigny University (UFHB), Côte d’Ivoire; Pierre Simon Laplace Institute (IPSL), France; CNRM-GAME (CNRS and Météo-France), France; Institut de Recherche pour le Dévelopement (IRD), France; Agricultural Research Centre for Development (CIRAD), France.

AMMA 2050 project website

More information on the Future Climate for Africa programme

Staff page of Dr Chris Taylor, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

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